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Dresden Files’ author, Jim Butcher is going Steampunk with his new series, Cinder Spires.

Mr. Butcher came to my corner of the world last weekend at Space City Con in Houston Texas. Not only is he a great writer, he also gives back to the writing community by sharing the basics of the wordsmith craft at convention and conference panels. He reminded us of the saying attributed to Michelangelo, which I found brilliant as a way to describe the need to learn the craft of writing and revisions to aspiring authors. How do you make a statue? You carve away from the stone, everything that is not the statue. As Michelangelo said, “You just chip away at the stone that doesn’t look like David.” That’s exactly what the revisions I do feel like to me.

Speaking on writing in a way that makes people care about your characters, he used the terms scene and sequel to describe what I happened to have learned as action and reaction. The elements of scene and sequel are emotion, logic and review, anticipation (what’s going to happen next) and choice. Mr. Butcher stressed the importance of keeping them in that order. Though sometimes you may not use all of them, which is fine, you need to keep to that order for the ones you do use. If you use any internal dialogue, keep it in the sequence or reaction part only. The best place to end chapters is in the action part, when the crisis or major event of that scene occurs or when the character is in an emotional state in the reaction part of a scene.

What I have often heard described as – start the story at the last possible place you can where it still makes sense, he explains as starting the story when something happens to change the status quo. Of course, it’s the exact same concept just as action/reaction is the same as scene/sequel, still his terminology may be easier for some to follow.

Mr. Butcher explains all books use the story question—Your protagonist sets out to accomplish a goal but will he succeed when the antagonist gets in the way and tries to stop him? Every story is all about getting from the question at the beginning to the answer at the end. Jim Butcher adds the basic protagonist information and his goal and basic antagonist information and how he tries to stop the lead character to the story question. He uses this for synopsises, pitches, and back cover blurbs.

When asked about describing characters, he advised writers to choose specific words to go with the characters. For example, for Murphy in Dresden Files he uses the character tags of short, cute, and blond. Do that for each character. You can also use tags to describe places in the story. I have to say that is the first time I heard the term character tags. So I learned something new. I will definitely utilize this technique in my work.

When asked how to avoid stilted dialogue, Mr.Butcher said, “Try writing dialogue in five words are less as it’s the way people really talk.” That will help you bring the dialogue alive. He also advised per characters, the one thing you can never do is have a character wallow in self-pity. It will drive the reader away.

Regarding his beta readers, Mr. Butcher asks these three questions of them. What did you like in this chapter? What did you not like in the chapter? Do you have any questions in the chapter?

As far as authors whose books inspired him, he stated his single biggest inspiration was Laura Hamilton’s earliest books. When asked if he had any interest in co-authoring and if there was any one he would like to write with, he answered, “There is no one I hate that much. I’m not going to put myself on someone else professionally, I’m that much of a diva.” That brought loud laughter from the audience.

He spoke of when he had to work full time and said writers should look on writing as a part-time job that isn’t going to pay you for a long time. Personally, I consider it is an additional full-time job that isn’t going to pay you for a long time.

Then he moved to Steampunk, answering the question, what got you into Steampunk? His face broke out into a wide grin as he said he wanted to create a character with a cool steampunk cos  play outfit people could dress up in. He saw a captain’s coat at Comiccon that fit him. So he has to change the character because he really wants to wear that coat. The steampunk fantasy series also includes lots of airships, crystals, and goggles. It’s been said the Cinder Spires series is a kind of league of extraordinary gentlemen meets Sherlock meets Hornblower. The first in the series is titled The Areonaut’s Windlass. He’s working on that book now. He’s starting to build and pull his Steampunk world together with everything he wanted. Among other things he really wanted to include cats that speak. One of his characters is a talking cat.

Jim Butcher – Cinder Spires Reading

I love the idea of a talking cat, it reminds me of one of my favorite books and one of my favorite aliens in a book, Rejar by Dara Joy.  I will definitely read The Areonauts Windlass when it comes out, the release date has not yet been announced.

Also please feel free to share your favorite writing advice to give to newbies in the comments below. Mine is never stop writing no matter what and finish the rough draft.

~

Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 18 published books, including four Steampunk Romances. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

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Maeve Alpin loves reading and writing about ancient times. It’s only natural she loves alternative history just as much. She had a lot of fun adding an ancient twist to the Victorian age in her Egyptian/Steampunk/Romance As Timeless As Stone by Lyrical Press. And her newest release, a Celtic/Steampunk/Romance, To Love A London Ghost by Eternal Press. She lives in Texas with her family; her grown son, her granddaughter, and her spoiled cat, Severus. Visit Maeve Alpin at http://maevealpin.com.

Victorian Ghosts – Steampunk Style

by Maeve Alpin

Engrossed in spiritualism and Gothic novels, many Victorians, haunted by ghost, held table rapping séances. A parlor game still played to this day kown as the Ouija board received its paten in 1890, invented by an American lawyer, Elijah Bond. You can take a look at those first boards in the antique galleries and play an online version at The Museum of Talking Boards http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/WebOuija.html. The Victorians also loved to tell ghost stores in grand style by candle and gas light as cold winter winds howled outside. Among the Victorian authors who crafted classic ghost stores were M. R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu, Violet Hunt, and Henry James. The most popular ghost story from the Victorian age, A Christmas Carol, like the Ouija board is enjoyed to this day. My favorite is the Mr. Magoo version, as a kid I watched it every year. You can enjoy it online at http://www.hulu.com/watch/197592/mr-magoos-christmas-carol. Most people today are also familiar with another classic Victorian tale, Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost, if not the short story itself then one of the film versions which are often shown on TV. I always liked the one with Jodi Foster. With all this inspiration from Victoriana it’s no surprise I wrote a Steampunk/Romance with a ghost as the heroine. Walk on the wild side of Victorian London with the ghost and the ghost hunter with my new Steampunk/Romance To Love A London Ghost.

Here is the Blurb:

When Queen Victoria orders Sexton Dukenfield, premiere phantom hunter, to track down England’s missing ghost he stumbles into Ceridwen, a phantom warrior woman of an ancient Celtic tribe. Not only does he find her intriguing as a piece of the puzzle of the missing spirits, but he’s also haunted by her sultry sensuality. Though they both burn with desire, it’s difficult to quench their fiery passion since Ceridwen is so translucent. Every time Sexton touches her, his hands pass through her misty body. On a mission through the bustling narrow streets of London, to a dreary match factory, and even to the Otherworld and back, to stop a genius scientist and his phantasm debilitater machine, the ghost and the ghost hunter seek the secret to freeing the boundaries of life and death. 

Excerpt:

Taken off guard, Sexton finally managed to catch his breath.“Do you see her?”

Katie bobbed her head, then raised her thin, trembling arm and pointed at the apparition. “Ghost.”

The specter spread her feet in a warrior stance with her back straight and her chin tilted up. “Keep your box and magic beam away from me.”

Even in these strange circumstances, Sexton couldn’t help but notice the ectoplasm outline of the lush bulge of her heavy breasts. He riveted his eyes on them, then his gaze roamed to her waist, which flared into curved hips and long, supple thighs. “These?” He held up the device he clutched by the brass handle and grabbed the one strapped over his shoulder. “No magic, just boxes. They measure energy and heat, to tell me if phantasms are near. They can’t hurt you. Though I don’t need them now. I can see you, I know you’re near.” He turned his head toward the child peering at the specter from behind him.

“She really is a ghost,” Katie said.

“Indeed, and looking right at me.” Sexton looked back at the stunning spirit. He could tell her hair had been blonde and her eyes a sky blue. He felt warm being near her, rather than cold. Looking the phantasm in the eyes, he said, “I’m not going to hurt you and I was just going to ask you to not hurt me. I can help you go back to the light.”

“I’m not going to harm you, but I’m not going to the light or anywhere else until I free the others and bring vengeance on those men for capturing me.”

“Do you mean by others that there are more phantasms are in the factory?” He nodded toward the building. “Captured by men, did you say?”

“Yes, eight ghosts.”

Sexton took a deep breath. “Well, well, you are just the phantasm I was looking for.”

Please comment below to be entered in the drawing for a Steampunk Basket, including a Steampunk papier-mâché gun, Steampunk jewelry, (necklace and pin) and Victorian holiday treats.

OPEN INTERNATIONALLY! Contest closes December 7, 2011, at 11:59 PM PST. 

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Today we have Jane George, author and illustrator of the YA book, The Mumbo Jumbo Circus. 

Sideshow, Burlesque and Circus

by Jane George

“STEP RIGHT UP! DON’T BE SHY. THAT’S RIGHT FOLKS, WHAT’S INSIDE MUST BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED!”

As a kid, I was exposed to such imaginative oddities as The Wild, Wild West TV show and The 7 Faces of Dr Lao.

These kinds of cultural influences wax and wane, and now the lure of the mysterious, the impossible, and the forbidden is stronger than ever.  The resurgence of interest in circus arts, sideshow and burlesque theater may be part of the same cultural backlash to beige-box consumerism that spawned Steampunk. Humans crave color, imagination and creative freedom.

Poster: Gemini & Scorpio

Intense explorations of cabaret/burlesque, circus, sideshow and Steampunk have popped up all around the country, from one night events like The Lost Circus Circus Meets Dark Cabaret With a Steampunk Twist in Brooklyn last year to on-going performances and dinner theater.  Just to name a few:

In Austin, Texas, The East Side Show Room serves up gourmet cuisine and vintage cocktails with a side of cabaret in a steampunky-circus atmosphere. For a Tim Burton meets the circus experience, there is Cirque Berzerk   in Los Angeles. And in San Francisco you can have, “Love, Chaos & Dinner,” in a tent with Teatro ZinZanni

While the delights of classic roadside attractions like The Thing are now few and far between, there are performers who are carrying on the tradition of Sideshow and the Ten-in-One.

Austin, Texas is also home to Noel Benedetti aka Ballyhoo Betty, a sideshow performer who specializes in fire arts.

Noel is blogmistress of www.HeyRubeCircus.com , a fantastic celebration of all things circus and sideshow. She is affiliated with 999 Eyes Freakshow, The Invisible Man Corporation, and The Surreal Sideshow.

Noel says this about her experience as a sideshow performer, “Aside from musical acts, people are relatively sheltered from live entertainment today and so people are typically unaware of the very visceral chemistry that can exist between performer and viewer. During a live sideshow, there is an interaction taking place, unlike the unidirectional consumption of most mass media, such as television. This dynamic often takes people by surprise, and you can see their eyes light up in response to this confrontation.”

In contrast to the hybrid theater/circus/cabaret blends that are gaining in popularity, Noel says this about her art, “While sideshow is often considered a radical or fringe culture, it is also heavily steeped in tradition. There are relatively few genuinely novel sideshow acts around today; people have been eating fire, swallowing swords and displaying anatomical oddities for centuries and tipping the hat to performers of the past has become a norm in the business.”

Photo: Jason Black

Noel suggested I look up a visual artist and sideshow performer named Jason Black, aka The Black Scorpion.  Among the venues he performs at is Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore

A poem by Black describes The Black Scorpion:

A winged, performance Anti-Artist.

He, born a naked baby boy with irregular hands, unlike any other.

When him you see, understand you will.

Witnessing his Anti-Act is the longest day you will ever live.

Remember he is breathing for something onstage, and living the rest for his life.

That last line stays with you, doesn’t it? I’ll bet his act does too.

Current circus and sideshow acts could be be said to be more about individualism and creativity than about “Hey, Rube” hucksterism. This is especially true in the modern world of burlesque. A revival in burlesque and the art of the striptease happened in the Nineties and has been gaining in popularity ever since. Partly driven by a nostalgia for old-time glamor, modern burlesque is also a feminine reclaiming of the “male gaze,” often in intelligent and hilarious send-ups of the medium. Burlesque is theater, cabaret and performance art rolled into one.

photo: RJ Johnson, Hot Pink Feathers

Hot Pink Feathers   is a renowned, award-winning San Francisco Bay Area troupe that performs World Cabaret Showgirl dance. Founder and head Feather, Kellita, told me why she feels burlesque is so popular, “The heart of the matter is that burlesque is an art and a craft that puts the woman front and center, as performer and as producer. Audiences today are more heavily female than they used to be. Content is almost exclusively created by a woman for herself, and it often parodies her personal insecurities, transforming them into mainstays of joy and inspiration.  Burlesque is an art form that deserves its due. When it’s done right, a lot of craft goes into the art of slf-expression.”

Hot Pink Feathers is performing a Sally Rand-type showgirl routine, with feather fans and dripping-pearl bikinis, in San Francisco’s Carnavale Parade on  Sunday, May 29.  Say hello to them at the staging area 9am-12 at Bryant between 21st & 22nd.  Parade starts at noon. They can also be seen on the 2nd Saturday of every month at Café Van Kleef, where they perform with the Blue Bone Express brass band. Next show is June 11.

For a while now, circus arts have been making their way back to the more intimate, single ring circus. When I saw an equine show produced by Cirque du Soleil called Cheval Theatre, I could practically reach out and touch the horses. I definitely felt the whoosh as they galloped past my seat.

Poster: Circus Flora

A circus dedicated to this connection between performer and audience is Circus Flora in St. Louis. Circus Flora weaves a theatrical storyline through their classical circus acts. From their site, “The artistry, magic and charm of Circus Flora’s performances have made it part of the vanguard of the “new circus” movement in North America.”The artistry, magic and charm of Circus Flora’s performances have made it part of the vanguard of the “new circus” The theme of their performances changes annually. This year it’s a Victorian-era riverboat theme entitled Vagabond Adventures.

“Circus Flora is about performance, not spectacle. Circus Flora concentrates on displaying the individual talents and personalities of human and animal performers highlighting their relationships to one another. It’s a circus about family, beauty, magic and inspiration.”  Ivor David Balding

That quote could have been written about my recently-released, young adult fantasy, The Mumbo Jumbo Circus. It describes the themes of my novel perfectly. One random commenter will receive a paperback of The Mumbo Jumbo Circus. Step Right Up! into the world of human possibility that is this writer’s imagination.

Freedom, creativity and individualism are hallmarks of modern sideshow, burlesque, cabaret, and circus arts. Just like the relationship between author and reader, the magic is in the point of connection. I like to think of a circus ring as a sacred circle of human possibility. Happy performing, in whatever you do!

 ~Jane George

What do you love most about the circus? 

Jane is giving away a copy of The Mumbo Jumbo Circus to one lucky commenter (North America only please).   Contest ends 11:59 PM PST  June 1, 2011.

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First off, we’re going to give away a copy of Saundra Mitchell’s The Vespertine. 

Shannon

Shannon, you are our winner.  Please email me at suzannelazear (@) hotmail to claim your prize.  Didn’t win?  You can still win a bunch of things, like books by Mark Hodder,  a bag of swag from RT and The Vampire Dimitri.

Today we have another great Pyr author, Andrew Mayer, author of The Falling Machine.  We’ll be giving away four copies of his book!

The Falling Machine: The Society of Steam, Book One by Andrew Mayer

In 1880 women aren’t allowed to vote, much less dress up in a costume and fight crime…

But twenty-year-old socialite Sarah Stanton still dreams of becoming a hero. Her opportunity arrives in tragedy when the leader of the Society of Paragons, New York’s greatest team of gentlemen adventurers, is murdered right before her eyes. To uncover the truth behind the assassination, Sarah joins forces with the amazing mechanical man known as The Automaton. Together they unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that reveals the world of heroes and high-society is built on a crumbling foundation of greed and lies. When Sarah comes face to face with the megalomaniacal villain behind the murder, she must discover if she has the courage to sacrifice her life of privilege and save her clockwork friend.

The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, Book One) takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities, and grant powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.

When he’s not crafting stories, Andrew Mayer works as a video-game designer and digital entertainment consultant. He has created numerous new concepts, characters, and worlds, including the original Dogz and Catz digital pets. Andrew calls Portland, Oregon, home (although he’s been traveling a lot lately). You can find his musings on writing and media at www.andrewpmayer.com. This is his first novel.

The Writing Process by Andrew Mayer

If, back when I first started writing, someone had told me that my first published novel was going to be a Victorian era adventure about a girl and a mechanical man, I would have thought that they were nuts. I was, after all, going to be a Science Fiction Writer™. There was nothing I wanted to do more than tell amazing stories about spaceships, aliens, and far-away worlds that took place in humanity’s glorious future of unlimited galactic conquest. I was certainly wouldn’t been interested in becoming mired in some fantastical age of steam based on the past.

And my complaints wouldn’t have just been about the setting—writing pseudo-historical fiction is hard. You don’t just make things up, you have to look them up as well. And at some point in the process you find yourself researching details that can simply be invented in a story of the far future. You need to figure out the little things, like how people cleaned their teeth in 1880, the finer points of Victorian home heating systems, and whether or not the term gangster was actually used before the turn of the century.*

But right or wrong, easy or hard, I discovered that the story in my head that needed telling was a steampunk story. And I set about trying to write it.

Soon after starting I realized that I actually kind of liked researching things. There’s a great feeling that comes when you find the answer you’re looking for, whether it’s buried deep in the internet, or hidden in the pages of a dusty library book. And after a few months of uncovering these hidden historical gems, I discovered that that I’d done so much spelunking in the past that I either already knew the answers, or I knew exactly where to look.

Part of the skill of writing is accepting that motivation can come from the strangest places. Because starting a novel is easy, but to finish one you need to find a story that excites you enough to get your butt into the writing chair for the days, weeks, months, and years that it takes to drag your story from the first character description to final copy edit. You have to feel the passion for your fiction, and it’s that love that keeps pushing you to keep hitting the keys long after you’ve lost any sense of perspective, and to write some more after you’ve gained it back again. And it was as I wrote this story I discovered that I had a true passion for the Steampunk genre. And I wanted to not just tell a ripping tale, but also to try and write the kind of book that would infect people with my growing love for the genre.

And as I read the reviews for the book I’ve written I’m less concerned with whether someone “likes” it or not (although people who like it are nice) than discovering if I’ve managed to communicate my passion to the reader. And if I have, even just a little bit, it gives me the fuel to back and do it again. And the aliens will just have to wait a little longer…

* Europeans did use boar’s bristle toothbrushes in 1880, but brushing didn’t take off in American until around 1885.
Central heating was popular in wealthy Victorian homes because they believed still air caused diseases.
Gangster is a perfectly fine word for the period, although it still doesn’t sound quite right to me.

~Andrew Mayer

www.andrewpmayer.com

What has been the strangest (or most difficult) thing you’ve had (or wanted) to research?  We have four copies of The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, Book One) to give away to four lucky commenters.  You’ll have to wait to recieve your prize until May, but it’s open internationally.

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What was in my mailbox for the month of march?

Books I talk about in this edition:

Enclave by Ann Aguirre (gift)
The Iron Thorn by Catlin Kittredge
Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce
The Hunt of the Unicorn by C.C. Humphreys
The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Also…can you spot the tot?

Thanks to Harmony, of Harmony’s Radiant Reads, Random House, and Harcourt.

In My Mailbox was started by The Story Siren

 

 

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Today, as Steampunkapalooza 2011 continues, I’d like to welcome Saundra Mitchell, author of the young adult book The Vespertine.

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. She teaches herself languages, raises children, and makes paper for fun. She’s also a screenwriter for Fresh Films and the author of Shadowed Summer and The Vespertine, and the forthcoming The Springsweet. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

 

Let’s Go Dancing

by Saundra Mitchell

Let it be resolved that in 1889, it wasn’t just the upper crust who danced the night away during their rigid and formalized ball season. The American middle class did just as much fan flirting and dance-card gaming as their wealthier counterparts, but I suspect they had more fun doing it.

Without vast empires to merge and old money to protect with proper matches, the middle class showed up at their balls… to dance. To flirt, and fall in love; to gossip and steal sips of brandied punch. But, since the very-well-heeled weren’t opening their private ballrooms to the masses, the masses instead attended public balls.

Public balls were often held as fundraisers- they might be for a charity, or a public works project. Sometimes, to raise money for a church or synagogue. Unions also played host, as well as social clubs. And then there were plenty that were simply money-making ventures. Hotels especially enjoyed the extra revenue of hosting public balls on the holidays.

There were no invitations to manuever. Public balls were advertised in newspapers, and notices were posted in the post office and in other meeting places. For a fee, anywhere from a nickel to several dollars, anyone could attend, as long as they were properly dressed. (And yes, that meant along with specifically segregated balls, some public dances were multicultural events.)

Sometimes, you’d pay your admission in advance- dance cards often served double duty as the ticket. Others took cash at the door. Once inside, you’d find a string quartet or brass band in the corner providing music, a refreshment parlor and a ladies’ necessary. Unlike private affairs, public balls didn’t generally include dinner.

Which means you pay your money, you get your dance card, and you get straight to flirting, straight to the intrigue, straight to the best part of ball-going season: the dancing. Who said the rich get to have all the fun?

~Saundra Mitchell

http://thevespertine.com

 

I have a copy of The Vespertine to give away to one lucky commenter.  Contest ends April 11 at 11:59 pm PST, contest open internationally.  So if you went to a Victorian ball, what part of it would you look forward to the most?

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I totally forgot to put up the Feb edition of “In My Mailbox.”   I’m still very new to the whole Vlog thing.  I get so nervous and I just know I said something wrong.  And, oh, the faces I make!  I don’t think I’m doing this right.

The books I talk about in the Feb edition are

Invasion by Jon S. Lewis (YA, a C.H.A.O.S novel)

The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge (YA)

Heartless by Gail Carriger (Adult, book 4 Parasol Protectorate, released July 2011)

Thanks to Orbit, Thomas Nelson, and Delacorte Press for sending me these books.

In My Mailbox was started by The Story Siren

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